March 16, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez on Wednesday
asked for an investigation into allegations that administrators
at the Sport & Medical Sciences Academy pressured parents to
change the racial identification of their biracial children to meet
"Obviously, something went wrong
here," Perez said.
In a letter to John Langeland, chairman
of the city's Internal Audit Commission, Perez, chairman of the
school board, asked for an accounting of both written policies for
determining the racial composition of the city's magnet schools
"as well as what policies are actually being implemented by
The audit should determine whether
practices "are being carried out in a way that is, or could
be, coercive in forcing parents to change the reported racial designation
of their children," Perez wrote.
In his letter, Perez noted that he
was responding to assertions by parents and students reported in
The Courant, which, "if true, are particularly disturbing."
In that report, two biracial students
said they agreed to change their racial designation from black to
white after Principal Eduardo V. Genao or former Assistant Principal
Norma Lavoie asked them to do so to ensure maximum state funding.
The boys' parents were angry that administrators put the request
to their children without calling them for permission.
A third parent, whose name was provided
by the school, said Genao called her and that she did not mind changing
the designation of her child's race to help the school.
Wednesday, a fourth parent, Heidi Jackson,
said Genao had called her, too, and startled her when he said "`I
have to have a certain amount of white people in the school and
right now I'm a little low in these numbers. Do you mind if I make
your daughter white?' He was a little more articulate, but this
is what I grasped out of the conversation."
Jackson said she consented to the change
to help the school. She is white and her husband is black, she said;
her daughter's birth certificate states that she is black.
"My husband was offended,"
Jackson said. "He didn't feel that I should have changed it."
Genao, who was out of town Wednesday,
previously said he changed the racial designation of six biracial
children, but stressed that he did so only with parental permission
and only in cases in which children's identities were mistaken.
He denied that he sought to change the statistics to maximize state
funding or to meet desegregation goals. However, he conceded that
he thought funding for his school was tied to racial quotas and
that he did discuss his perception of the funding formula with parents
The funding for magnet schools that
open this year is tied to racial quotas. But the funding for established
Hartford magnet schools is based on a ratio of urban and suburban
students, a standard that Sport & Medical Sciences Academy meets.
Where race is relevant for the academy
is in regard to compliance with the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation
settlement. Under that agreement between the state and the plaintiffs,
28 percent of a magnet school's students must be white for the school
to count toward reducing racial isolation. With 89 white students
of 400 enrolled, the school falls short.
"Though there is tremendous pressure
on the state to meet their obligations under Sheff vs. O'Neill to
reduce racial isolation in Hartford schools, the board of education
and its staff should not feel obligated to `modify numbers' to make
the state's efforts appear more successful than they are,"
Perez said in his letter requesting the audit.
Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry
said he and his staff will cooperate with the auditor and declined
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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